Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Yeah, the nostalgia thing

Life in the age of the internet. I posted something on Facebook and had barely finished when I got a phone call from a friend in England commenting on it...

And now I am listening to Radio-Canada Espace Musique (easy listening music in French) just like I used to when working in my basement in Laval. The weather is cold enough and I have a space heater near enough to nudge me into a state of nostalgia.

It coincides with a recent concerted look at the five past years of this blog... I need to organize this material and publish a book. It is clear that people don't really take a blogger very seriously unless he is notable for other reasons. I have been thinking recently about my various projects and having to prioritize. That is really a priority... much as all the other stuff is desirable, necessary, even a moral imperative.

But the blog... It is not just what was written, but what was not written. I recently wrote about being a hybrid. Being a hybrid is nothing unusual; I think most people in the world are some kind of hybrid. As a matter of fact, if you are not, then you are probably not fully alive. The key is to synthesize the various aspects of your character and experience and come up with a "newer, better model" you.

I was showing a friend my father's autobiography, which I edited nearly ten years ago, and ended up talking about his life experience as well as that of my (ex) in-laws. My father was a Polish immigrant to Canada, but really he was a refugee from Communist Poland. My father-in-law was similarly an escapee from Communist Romania. Both were talented, cultured, intelligent and accomplished individuals, knew several languages, and were on the whole happy in their new country... but it was like a graft that never really took. Even so, trips to their native lands were always bittersweet, because time does not stand still and nothing stays the same. The people are gone, the places have changed.

In some ways it feels that I inherited that same "stranger in a strange land" syndrome. It is almost as though I decided to jettison any identity that connected me to this body. That perhaps made it easier to become a Krishna devotee. It wasn't hard to say "I am not a Canadian" because, in a way, it was obvious.  Lucien Bouchard was famous for saying that Canada is not a real country, but then, all countries are somewhat artificial in their construction of identity.

There is a French saying, Qui prend mari prend pays. But for me, married life was a chameleon's existence. I was very much the one who tried to bury myself in a kind of prepackaged failure, going through the motions of middle-class family life. Alienation, one of the buzz words of my adolescence, the specter that really lurks beneath all of our facile identities, was waiting to strike and indeed it did strike.

We with greater or lesser facility grow into normality, the normal paradigms of our time, language and culture. Like fish in water, it is almost impossible to really question the comfort of that identity. Only when it is challenged by the inevitable changes... the attacks of the barbarians or some other equivalent incursion... do we find ourselves in a state of discomfort. Then we become the cartoon character we mocked as teenagers, a grumbling old Mr. Wilson telling us to get off his lawn.

The kind of adaptability that comes from being established in our true identity, beyond time, language and culture. Can we escape identity? I may not be a Canadian, but Canadianness has insinuated itself into a sinewy hold on my being -- I can look at it like a objet d'art, roll it over in my hands, admire many of its virtues -- but it is not mine.

At the same time, I can look at my Indianness... can I call it any more real?

You don't escape or create identity. But I laugh at those who think that it is possible.

Anyway, I like my identity as a devotee, a Vrindavana-vasi. It feels transcendental, free to go anywhere, unassailable.

Jai Radhe.

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